Self release [Release date: 22.05.20]
Troy Redfern’s ‘Island’ may well be his best work yet. It’s an atmospheric nuanced album full of vacillating emotions and material that he might not have envisaged writing a few months ago.
It’s a splendid album on which he digs deep into his own psyche to produce something that reflects his current state of mind. His focused artistic intensity is tempered by an uncertain future with all the emotional turmoil that goes with the territory.
It’s quite possible that he could have recorded this album with or without being in lockdown, but it probably wouldn’t have been invested with the same amount of integrity and real feel.
The title might be interpreted as a metaphor for feelings of isolation, but also of self sufficiency and possibly self empowerment, while the Aaron Gardner’s well worn guitar album art work suggests that we will all come out of this a bit battered and bruised, but always resilient.
Sometimes in life the unexpected things bring out the best in us. In pre-Coronavirus times, Redfern had been busy working on a potential major breakthrough album in Rockfield studios in Monmouth. The sudden lockdown presented him with the opportunity to come up with something different.
‘Island’ is a more laid back affair than usual with the emphasis on stripped down acoustic playing and songcraft. There’s colourful imagery, sparkling playing and fleeting melodies which lend themselves to a sense of a time and place.
You could call ‘Island’ a roots rock into Americana album, but the music here refuses to be genre bound. It’s certainly built on a blues foundations with a folky feel, but if the occasional rock-blues bluster such as the opening track ‘Doin’ Time’ suggest business as usual, it’s merely an exercise in blowing away the cobwebs before the real work begins.
So far in his career Troy has trodden a thin line between intricate moments and rip-roaring bluster. ‘Island’ explores a new balance. It’s still an album built on steely licks and passionate rasping vocals, but overall it’s a more contemplative effort. He voices the depth of his feelings through heartfelt lyrics and a tonal array that allows the best moments to linger.
No one can really identify why our subconscious feelings sometimes takes us to some fairly remote places. Whatever the reason, Redfern explores those thought patterns and digs deep to tap into a vibe that feels like an emotional statement of what we’re all going through at the moment.
And it’s his ability to emote that universal feeling that is the key to the impact of this album.
He cleverly varies his instrumentation on the Hawaiian style slide and hook-laden ‘Falling Down’ and revisits an Eastern feel on the resonator-led instrumental ‘Fighting Form’.
Then there’s the evocative ‘Call To Prayers’ on which he matches an ethereal vocal with some Eastern-tinged acoustic and tablas (or possibly an African hand drum), to conjure up some title-led imagery on a lovely audio aesthetic.
The acoustic instrumental ‘Era’s End’ is equally good as it floats round the room to create an optimistic vibe in an otherwise dark landscape.
It’s also the point when he throws off the shackles of introspection and looks towards a post lockdown rebirth as his crisp guitar lines bloom like flowers in spring.
The message appears to be that we may indeed be at an ‘Era’s End’, but we’ve all got a new future to build.
There’s searing slide too on the oft covered ‘John The Revelator’, complete with a Son House sample. Slated as the album’s lead single, it’s given a TR makeover with layered slide over electronic beats.
The title track acts like an anchor to which all the other tracks are inextricable linked. There’s a flow and an ambient feel that evokes a David Gilmour style wall of sound, save for TR’s more sinewy tone.
He also cleverly varies his vocal attack, adding a female harmony vocal on tracks like the beautifully nuanced ‘Hallowed Ground’ and the chorus of ‘Lay My Body Down’.
Everything comes together perfectly on the latter. A lush combination of guitars, banjo and his weathered vocal is offset by rich harmonies and reminds me of The Band.
‘Island’ is a compelling album on which each track leads into the other. There’s a feeling of space and time that permeates 10 tracks that revel in their diversity, but are equally shot through with a spiritual feel born of our unique times.
This album’s overall feel is underscored by ‘Emma’, the closing slide injected instrumental which for those with a long memories evokes Wout Steenhuis, John Fahey, and more recently Ry Cooder and Sonny Landreth. Great company to be mentioned in, but then this is a special album. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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